Route: Capitol Reef Four Canyon Loop (UT)

Submitted by Jason Hardrath… on Sat, 12/26/2020 - 01:28pm
Utah, US
26.2 mi
Vertical Gain
3,000 ft

Four Canyon Marathon in Capitol Reef National Park

This four canyon link-up run is meant to serve as a front country "grand tour" of Capitol Reef and boy does it deliver. The running is varied from smooth-fast to mondo-techy-wet-slow.  Taking the intrepid adventure runner through: 

- Grand Wash - This wash is in its own right a famous, highly ranking hike of any Capitol Reef to-do list. You will be awe'd by the rock. Just don't miss your turn onto Frying Pan Trail because you are gawking at the rock.

 Frying Pan Trail - A great climb past Cassidy Arch trail junction and descent to Cohab junction following cairns on sandstone much of the way.

- Cohab Canyon  - The most diminutive of this loop, this canyon still harbors unique plant life not known to live anywhere else (tread lightly and stay on trail)

- Sulphur Creek Canyon - This is the technical crux (hard point) of the entire route, reading Road Trip Ryan's description makes it apparent that the obstacles in this canyon may force you to do the entire loop in a counter-clockwise direction during some points of the year (depending on the flow of the river). This 5.8 mile section of the route has at least one mandatory swim, with multiple small waterfall downclimbs (some with bypasses). DO NOT GO into Sulphur Creek Canyon if there is a high chance of rain, it can flash flood. (you can see these obstacles in a frozen state in my videos on this Instagram Post)

- Spring Canyon - This is the "Lower Spring Canyon" portion and is my (Jason Hardrath's) favorite part of the route. As you run up or down this canyon (depending on which direction you go), you run yourself through layers of Capitol Reef, transitioning from white to red sandstone if going up, or red to white if going down. It is worth heeding that one must cross the Fremont River at the bottom of this canyon. Normally the river is less than knee deep, but it can be difficult/dangerous to cross for a few weeks during spring run-off or after very heavy rains. It is prudent to eyeball the river before setting out. It would be a harsh surprise to hike the 11 miles only to find the river too dangerous to cross.

The real winning point though?

The canyons are phenomenal! You literally run yourself through the different rock layers of the reef from white up into red, then back down to white, over the course of the day. This marathon loop contains technical and routefinding elements. Each canyon presents its own uniqueness as you go! Be prepared for some interesting obstacles in Sulfur Creek. (you can see my IG post, flip through the videos). I cannot think of a better running adventure of this distance in the front country of Capitol Reef.


I think sub-5 is low hanging fruit. (I missed the turn up out of Grand Wash onto Frying Pan Trail which added 10 for sure)
Sub-4 to someone with serious 50k fitness, good navigation skills, in he right time of year is doable for sure.
And sub-3:30 to those with great legspeed and no fear of adventure obstacles.
I do wonder how close someone could put this to 3 flat though? Possible, IDK...
Will this become a Classic of the Capitol Reef Area? Possible...

Who's next?


Further research: 

by Jason Hardrath (Follow on IG or FB)